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Congress approves bill to speed up Zika drug development

A day after federal officials called the Zika virus "a bit scarier than we initially thought," Congress has passed a bill to speed up the developments of drugs to treat and prevent the virus.

The legislation, passed in the Senate last month and in the House on Tuesday, would specifically add the Zika virus to a list of tropical diseases under a "priority" program. This means the FDA must respond within six months to an application for a new drug or biological product that could treat or prevent the disease.

The bill now heads to President Obama's desk. The White House said Mr. Obama will sign it, even though it does not provide the $1.9 billion in emergency funding the administration wants to help fight the Zika epidemic. The administration has already decided to use $589 million in leftover funding from the Ebola epidemic to help fight the Zika virus.

"We hope that this legislation encourages private sector partners to address the challenge of Zika, but it contains no funding and is ultimately insufficient on its own since it doesn't provide the $1.9 billion in funding that our public health experts have said is needed right now to prepare Americans for the imminent local transmission of Zika in this country," the White House said in a statement. "Hopefully this small step forward suggests that Congress is now prepared to take on the much more meaningful measures needed to protect Americans from this virus."

House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin, said in a statement that "this measure will make it easier to develop vaccines and treatments for patients, especially women and children." He added, "We will continue to monitor the government's response, and work to protect the American people."